Source: Sherman Publications

NOHLC to preserve historic camp

by Mary Keck

July 11, 2012

In their 40th year, the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy (NOHLC) is still preserving land in Independence and other townships. Since 1972 when Clarkston resident Nelson Kimball became the conservancy’s founding president, the NOHLC has preserved 494 acres in Independence Township alone.

According to Interim Executive Director Sue Julian, the NOHLC has no plans to stop protecting Michigan’s lands. In fact, they’re hoping to reach a 10,000-acre goal, and have already begun.

“We’ve identified as much as 10,000 acres that have high quality features to the land,” Julian said. “This conservancy does not anticipate owning or managing 10,000 acres, but if we identify areas that are important, we can speak to a Planning Commission, for instance, if an area is going to be developed,” she explained.

The acquisition the NOHLC is currently working to protect is a 250-acre historic camp in Rose Township called Camp Wathana. The camp is located on land with two glacial lakes, and it has lush forests, bogs, and scenic vistas. It also includes historic buildings, which housed youngsters participating in the camp when it opened in 1926.

Clarkston resident Jan Merz attended Camp Wathana when she was nine and later became a counselor there. “It was really special to take that bus way out into the country,” she said. From her point of view it was “not just about getting camping skills; it developed you as an individual.”

Being away from family and in the wilderness, Merz “gained independence,” but she also had fun swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, and singing. Merz remembers birch trees, eating breakfast in a rowboat, and taking canoe trips down the Michigan River. “We didn’t realize how lucky we were,” she said wistfully.

As an adult, Merz returned to the camp to find it has been reduced from the 400 acres she remembers to the 250 the NOHLC hopes to protect. “I want to see it preserved,” Merz said. Her love for Camp Wathana now fuels her determination to aid the NOHLC in connecting with other former campers who would be interested in preserving the historic camp. “We need to keep it for future kids in Michigan and Ohio,” said Merz.

Conserving lands for later generations is the NOHLC’s specialty. “It was conceived by people in Clarkston and based on the idea that you could put an easement on land, which would last forever,” Director Sue Julian explained. “A person could live on the land, but it would be protected. If they sold it or passed it to their heirs, it would continue to be protected,” she said.

While many of the NOHLC’s acquisitions are privately owned, some are accessible to the public such as the Nels Kimball Sanctuary and Voorheis-Beardsley Preserve located in Independence Township.

Once land is safeguarded by the NOHLC, they “monitor and make sure to protect the natural values of the land,” Julian said. The acres preserved will sometimes have open land, an important river corridor, high ecological qualities or it may be home to endangered species.

Much of the land under the protection of the NOHLC is donated by individual landowners, but the non-profit organization also purchases acres or acquires conservation easements to preserve natural spaces, said Julian. To find out more about the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy go to or stop by their office located at the Springfield Township’s Civic Center.